A new era for the Royal Academy

The Royal Academy of Arts, the world’s foremost artist and architect-led institution, celebrates two-and-a-half centuries this year, with the unveiling of new exhibition space that will allow it to show more art than ever before.

Natalie Rizzi, Investment Director, Rathbones

Two hundred and fifty years after it was founded with a mission to promote the arts in Britain through education and exhibitions, the Royal Academy of Arts has undergone a “transformative” redevelopment.

Internationally acclaimed architect Sir David Chipperfield, himself a Royal Academician, is the man behind the redesign, which includes joining the RA’s two buildings — Burlington House on Piccadilly and, backing on to it, 6 Burlington Gardens in Mayfair — as a single campus. The site’s new features include the Weston Bridge, which links the two buildings; the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, which will host temporary exhibitions; the Benjamin West Lecture Theatre; the Clore Learning Centre; and additional spaces for free displays of art and architecture.

The redevelopment — paid for with a £12.7 million grant from the National Lottery and support from a number of individual donors — means visitors will be able to see more of the historic masterpieces from the RA’s own collection, more of the RA’s world-class exhibitions programme and more of the work from the RA’s Schools.

“This is not just a major building development,” says Charles Saumarez Smith, the RA’s Secretary and Chief Executive. “It is an undertaking which will transform the psychological as well as the physical nature of the Academy. At long last we will be able to open up the RA and share with the public more of our mission to promote the understanding, appreciation and practice of art and architecture.”

“The big change is that the Royal Academy will have two entrances — a front door facing Piccadilly in the south and a new front door to Burlington Gardens, Cork Street and Bond Street,” explains Sir David Chipperfield. “You will be able to go from an exhibition in Burlington House to a lecture in Burlington Gardens through the vaults of the building. You will see the Cast Corridor and you will see where the RA Schools have been all this time. It is a small amount of architecture for a profound result.”

A resurgent RA

The RA is governed by the Royal Academicians, 80 artists and architects. “The proof of the Academy’s resurgence in the 21st century is that among our Academicians we have world-class painters, sculptors, printmakers and architects,” says RA President Christopher Le Brun. “For the first time, our visitors will be able to see more of their work in dedicated changing displays of art and architecture, past and present, for free.”

The inaugural exhibition in the new Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries in Burlington Gardens, LANDSCAPE, will showcase the work of Royal Academician Tacita Dean, exploring the genre of landscape in its broadest sense. This will run to 12 August.

The new Royal Academy Collection Gallery will display works belonging to the RA, including the Taddei Tondo by Michelangelo and the almost full-size 16th-century copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, along with paintings by Reynolds, Kauffman, Thornhill, Constable, Gainsborough and Turner.

Summer Exhibition

The RA’s Summer Exhibition also marks its 250th anniversary this year. The theme of this year’s event, running from 12 June to 19 August and coordinated by Royal Academician Grayson Perry, will be ‘Art Made Now’. Around 1,200 works, in a range of media and from amateurs, emerging artists and well-known professionals, will go on display, with most available for sale. Staged to coincide with the Summer Exhibition will be The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Summer Exhibition, which will tell the story of the annual show and feature highlights from the past two-and-a-half centuries.

The Summer Exhibition is the world’s largest open-submission contemporary art show and has taken place every year since 1769. A significant proportion of funds raised go towards financing post-graduate students at the RA Schools, which offers the only three-year study programme of its kind in Europe.

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